Despite its rookie status, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies’ Ethics Bowl team won fourth place at the Regional Competition on Nov. 8 and secured a spot in the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Competition in February.

While the Jepson School has had an Ethics Bowl team in place for a number of years, this year’s four-person team, coached by Jessica Flanigan, consists exclusively of newcomers to competitive ethics. The team comprises seniors Charlotte Denoyer, Matthew Groff, Maddie Soskin and Mattias Treu, who were chosen based on faculty recommendations.

Treu said he did not know much about the team prior to being asked to join by Flanigan. “She basically said it was ethics case competition like debate, but making moral arguments,” Treu said. “After we had all agreed to do it, Dr. Flanigan sent us a video of one Ethics Bowl round so that we had a feel for how it was going to work.”

At the beginning of the semester, team members were given a list of potential ethical cases to prepare from that were subject to debate at the competition itself. The cases were divvied up among team members and each person became an expert on one or two of the potential topics.

“We met every week and went over their cases," Flanigan said. "They divided up cases so they each had cases that they were primarily and secondarily responsible for. Every week when we would get together, someone would present their views on the case, and the rest of the team would sort of interrogate that and make it more problematic. They would come back the next week and do it again and do it better.”

Twenty teams were present at the Regional Competition and during each round, two teams would go up against each another taking turns speaking, rebutting and answering questions from the judges.

“After a whole round is finished, the judges tally up all of their scores and you get a final score for each team from each judge. You win the round by winning over at least two out of the three judges,” Treu said.

The cases confronted by the Richmond Ethics Bowl team at Regionals this year included an experimental medical procedure for dying patients, a liquid form of nutrients that would solve global famine, the negative effects of nuisance laws in local communities and paternalistic laws against smoking in cars with children present.

Flanigan explained that the judges come from a variety of backgrounds – some from debate, law and business, but students “get judged mostly on the clarity of their arguments and the ability to incorporate different perspectives into the argument.”

The top four teams in the Regional contest will be attending Nationals on Feb. 22, 2015 in Costa Mesa, California, where a conference on professional ethics will simultaneously be taking place. Other qualifying schools include University of Tampa, United States Naval Academy and University of Alabama at Birmingham. There will be 32 teams present from colleges and universities at the national  ethics competition.

Contact reporter Katie Thomson at katie.thomson@richmond.edu

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